Yesterday, the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) held their extravagant national gala at the luxurious Waldorf-Astoria hotel in Manhattan.
The organization brought a slew of distinguished guests in along with 25 eloquent, attractive Israeli soldiers to mingle with donors. The mood was celebratory, as participants consumed gourmet food and flowing alcohol. The FIDF, which supports cultural and recreational activities for Israeli soldiers and supports the families of the fallen, also did its part to reinforce Israel’s favored iconography. All soldiers are “heroes.” Israel is a “miraculous country.” And Israel is at the “forefront of the world.”
The first part of the night entailed an opportunity to meet soldiers, rub shoulders with the rich and famous, and make connections in a roomful of powerful Jews. Participants then moved to the dining room for the main presentation. The auditorium was decorated with images of soldiers in action: smiling on the top of tanks, laughing while they apply camouflage to each other’s faces, and running with weapons. Meanwhile, David Broza’s hit song “Yihiye Tov” was playing, a song calling for peace which describes the travails of military life.
The presentation began with a cartoon in the style of something you might see in the beginning of an El Al flight. The wordless cartoon showed a young woman going off to the army amid familial tears. Next, we see her smiling behind a desk, apparently proud and happy to be doing her job. Then the plot line grows less clear. Abruptly the cartoon cuts to her on the beach reading a pamphlet from FIDF and then attending college, raising her hand in class, and the voila, she’s giving a presentation on Israeli innovation to a roomful of people. The crowd cheered at the success story.
Next, MC Monica Crowley, a Fox News personality, took over and introduced the color guard, the singers of the national anthems (U.S. and Israel), as well as some heroes of the IDF. Various speakers took turns describing the event and the nature of the FIDF. Some described the night as a show of support for the soldiers. FIDF Chairman Emeritus Arthur Stark, chair of the Gala, called it the “premier pro-Israel event on the planet.”
Crowley then introduced an Israeli intelligence officer via satellite. First though, Crowley urged us to turn off any mobile devices because of the sensitive nature of the information we were about to receive. Crowley then pushed the officer to divulge intelligence secrets, even though she knew they were secrets. The officer said he couldn’t, but, well, OK, maybe just this once, considering it’s such a special occasion. The audiences clapped and cheered. The officer then showed us actual footage of intelligence in action, a video of the assassination last year of Hamas military leader, Ahmed Jabari, which again elicited still more cheers and hollers.
These sorts of ruses continued as Crowley spoke to a soldier who operates drones, who was in the room but for some reason stationed on a balcony while a spotlight shone on him. At one point, Crowley asked the soldier if flying a drone is as much fun as it looks, to which he replied simply, “yes.” We learned that the soldier’s home near Gaza was destroyed in November during operation Pillar of Defense. Upon hearing this, Crowley commented that, “If someone dropped a bomb on my parents house I wouldn’t worry about who is a terrorist and who is not.” That prompted still more claps and cheers. The soldier then challenged Crowley to attempt to guess which of two pictures taken by a drone were pictures of terrorists and which were of civilians. Crowley got it wrong because she mistook a stretcher for possible weapons.
Next up was the mother of murdered soldier, who spoke to the crowd about her son, Hanan Barak, as pictures of his childhood were displayed on the screen behind her.
Last on the agenda were the donations. Donors rose, usually with prepared speeches, and then announced sums of money ranging from $18,000 to $1.3 million.